The Re-Opened Mind

It has been longer than usual since the last Open Mind. Though the series has been quiet on our blogs, ShrinkWrapped and I have been in contact behind the scenes. We paused to review the Open Mind experiment and consider what might be improved. Improvement here means a process that is in some way educational. It explores ideas and sheds light on their nature and boundaries, even in disagreement – disagreement that can be strongly and still civilly expressed. Intellectual civility requires a focus on ideas and not personalities: its purpose is to understand even disagreeable ideas rather than simply reject them with a critical label. This is the spirit that was meant to motivate our exchanges, expressed in Shrink’s words to me, to which we often return, concerning

how two reasonably bright, reasonably decent people can disagree so significantly in their perception of reality.

In our reconsideration, we have thought that we might try to seek areas of agreement rather than the obvious points of disagreement. The latter are not likely to alter in argument, in which case, what’s the point, except the comfort of reaffirming one’s opinions? The new idea, instead, is that in finding some agreement, we would seek then the parameters of the agreement. From there, we would explore the points of departure from each other, hoping fully to understand the disagreement rather than simply disparage it. For instance, in considering the size of government, we would begin by establishing those functions of government on which we agree, and why we agree on them, and then apply the ideas inherent in the agreement to the reasoning for the emerging disagreement. We are going to attempt to have a civilogue.

We will increase the number of posts in each exchange by one: claim, counter claim, response, and counter response. This way each of us will have equal opportunity to respond, amplify, and clarify. We will not rush to respond, but extend the exchange over perhaps a couple of weeks. Each exchange will begin with a highlighted statement of the issue, like the affirmative statement or the resolution in some forms of debate, so that the issue of the discussion is clear and won’t be misunderstood, though we won’t restrict how the issue is stated in any formal way.

While the exchange between Shrink and me on a chosen topic will end after four posts, we hope readers will continue their comments long after the date of a last post, and do so in the spirit of inquiry rather than of declaration. We hope the commenting will take place in a manner we will seek to represent ourselves in our posts. We hope that participants will support the claims they make with reasons and evidence. We hope that participants will respond directly to challenge questions and to counter arguments intended to test and explore their claims, rather than merely restate their claims. We hope that participants will explore and discuss the ideas actually presented in the posts and comments, and not argue against generic conservatives or liberals, or against reformulations of ideas represented as something other than what they originally claimed to be.

We hope to do better.

The next Open Mind begins Monday.


Detail from Government. Mural by Elihu Vedder. Lobby to Main Reading Room, Library of Congress

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2 thoughts on “The Re-Opened Mind

  1. I’m struck by how much you agree with ShrinkWrapped on the subject of Israel.

    This awful week, and especially the news that a group of German Jews plan to challenge the blockade, led me back to a poem by the late Yehuda Amichai, The Diameter of the Bomb (קוטר הפצצה).

    I’d enjoy hearing, from each of you, the details of the “circle” that encompasses your thoughts and feelings about Israel.


    1. Thank you for offering the Amichai poem. It is powerful and profound. I will post it in a couple of weeks as part of my Eating Poetry series. To write of “the details of the ‘circle’ that encompasses your thoughts and feelings about Israel” would be to write much more than the usual blog post. With thought and time, I will do it.

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